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Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that has two distinct phases. One is a depressive phase where people experience typical symptoms of depression. The other is a manic phase where the people have a lot of energy and feel “wired” or even “high.”

People with bipolar disorder alternate between feeling depressed and euphoric (manic). They also can have periods where they feel normal.

Periods of depression or mania can last for extended periods of time. Sometime people experience 4 or more episodes of depression or mania within a 1-year period. Doctors call this “rapid cycling” bipolar disorder because the person switches quickly between the phases.

Below are answers to common questions about bipolar disorder.

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

People with bipolar disorder alternate between feeling depressed and manic. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have bipolar disorder, it’s important to know the symptoms of each phase. Different people can have symptoms that are more or less extreme.

Signs of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Fatigue or lack of energy, so much so that it’s hard to do anything
  • Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Trouble concentrating, even on basic daily tasks

Signs of mania include:

  • Feeling “high”
  • Feeling “wired” or “jumpy,” like you’ve had too much caffeine
  • Insomnia or reduced need for sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Racing thoughts
  • Doing risky things, drinking a lot of alcohol, driving recklessly, having a lot of casual sex, overspending
  • Feeling overconfident, like you can do anything

Different types of bipolar disorder have different symptoms. A person may have a mixed episode, when elements of depression and mania occur at the same time. And some people have times when they feel normal and don’t have depression or mania.

Some people with bipolar disorder have symptoms that are less severe. For example, they may have periods of hypomania, a less extreme form of mania. During these periods, the depression is gone. They may feel energetic and upbeat and get things done.

Other people with bipolar disorder may have full-on manic episodes, but milder forms of depression.

Just because someone’s symptoms aren’t extreme doesn’t mean they don’t have bipolar disorder. The only way to know is to talk to your doctor or a psychiatrist.

How Is Bipolar Disorder Different From Other Mental Health Disorders?

On the surface, bipolar disorder can seem similar to depression — at least when someone is having a depressive episode. What distinguishes bipolar disorder from other types of depression is that people also experience periods of mania.

It’s this cycling between two extremes that is the hallmark of bipolar disorder.

What Are the Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder?

Treatment for bipolar disorder includes a combination of prescription medicine, talk therapy, and lifestyle changes. In extreme cases, people may require hospitalization for their own safety. This is because people with extreme depression can become suicidal — and people with extreme mania may take life-threatening risks.

Medicine treatments for bipolar disorder

There are many medicine options available for treating bipolar disorder. These include:

  • Antidepressants to treat the depressive portion of the disorder.
  • Mood stabilizers and antipsychotics to treat the manic portion of the disorder.
  • Sleep medicines for insomnia (not uncommon for people during a manic episode).
  • Anti-anxiety medicines if you are also experiencing anxiety.

Talk therapy and lifestyle changes to treat bipolar disorder

Your doctor may suggest talk therapy with a mental health counselor. This can help you learn new habits and use positive “self-talk” to improve your life.

Your doctor also may recommend these and other lifestyle changes to help manage symptoms:

  • Get regular aerobic/higher-intensity exercise, such as jogging, biking, or swimming. Exercise, especially vigorous exercise, can boost your mood and improve sleep. Even a daily 30-minute walk will help.
  • Create better sleep habits, like consistent bedtimes and wake times, and avoiding screens and caffeine in the evening.
  • Limit exposure to light and devices before bed. This can help you fall asleep more easily.
  • Avoid caffeine and large meals in the evening. This can also help improve sleep.

For more information, call UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.

National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder. Link

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Types of Bipolar Disorder.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.